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Mothers, community leaders demand improvements to Hillsborough Avenue in east Tampa

TAMPA — It was a grieving mother's plea, choked out between sobs.

"It hasn't even been a month since what happened with my daughter," Victoria Cabrera said in Spanish, her sister-in-law translating for her at a news conference Monday afternoon. "Do you guys want another accident? Do you guys want somebody else to die?"

Her 15-year-old daughter, Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, died four days after being struck while trying to cross E Hillsborough Avenue on March 18. As she spoke, her 14-year-old daughter, Victoria Velasquez-Cabrera, stood nearby, her head down, her arm bandaged to the wrist from the same accident.

And yet, Cabrera said, there has already been another teenager hit on Hillsborough Avenue, and another mother asking why.

"His dad and I are very distressed to hear he's not the first," said Lori Hogan, whose son, William Hogan, 18, was critically injured while trying to cross the six-lane road Wednesday. "It worries us more to think he's not the last, that another family will feel the hurt and pain that we feel having to walk in there and see him like he is. We just ask somebody to listen to the cries and pleas for help."

On Monday, Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr., state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, School Board member Susan Valdes and about a dozen more east Tampa community leaders attended the news conference to show that they heard and would press the Florida Department of Transportation to make the six-lane road safer.

"We cannot allow another child or person to be hit or killed on this road," Miller said. "Enough is enough."

From 2008 to 2012, Reddick said, 18 pedestrian or bike crashes have taken place on Hillsborough. In addition to the Velasquez-Cabrera sisters and Hogan, Middleton High School freshman Shenika Davis, 15, was killed in October 2011 after being hit by a pickup crossing Hillsborough at the railroad tracks between 22nd and 30th streets.

The area around the 2400 and 2500 blocks of Hillsborough needs attention urgently, Reddick said. With the Meridian Pointe Apartments on the north side of Hillsborough and the Tampa Festival Centre shopping plaza on the south, pedestrians often cross at mid block rather than walk to the pedestrian crossing and traffic light at N 22nd Street.

"There is no crosswalk, and this is where all the problems are occurring," Reddick said.

After the March 18 accident, the FDOT began pulling crash data with an eye on making improvements to the heavily traveled road.

"We are studying the area for a signal right there at (the 2500 block of Hillsborough) where the apartments are," FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said Monday. The agency would need the city's help securing the right of way for a pole and mast-arm on which to mount the signal, but those discussions have begun.

That said, it could take a year or more to install the signal and put it into operation.

State transportation officials plan to meet today with officials from the city of Tampa, Tampa Police Department, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Hillsborough school district and Tampa Electric to discuss Hillsborough Avenue.

In the meantime, Carson said it's important that pedestrians use the existing crosswalks at 22nd and 30th streets.

"It might be inconvenient to walk a block or two, but we need the citizens to do that for their safety," she said.

Reddick said he talked to FDOT officials Friday about a range of possible steps. A pedestrian overpass could cost up to $3 million and appears to be too expensive. By comparison, a new traffic signal could cost around $300,000.

Reddick also wants officials to explore putting in a mid block crosswalk — an idea that transportation officials turned to after a similar series of bad accidents on Busch Boulevard.

If a crosswalk doesn't go in, he said, then officials should look at reducing the road's 45 mph speed limit.

An additional signal near the apartments could start to slow down traffic, Carson said. And with the coming development of a new Walmart on Hillsborough, another signal is planned at 19th Street, too.

Mothers, community leaders demand improvements to Hillsborough Avenue in east Tampa 04/14/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 12:06am]

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